Starting a successful video game company from scratch would be a dream to most, but to Agapitus “Augi” Lye it’s just another resume line. The 33-year-old entrepreneur, engineer, inventor and classical violinist builds successful startup companies from the scratch, invents ground-breaking technology, and maintains Gainesville’s largest video game studio.
“If you want to start something just start it,” he says. “Everyone should try it.”
Lye, raised in Jacksonville, is cofounder and CEO of Trendy Entertainment, the Gainesville development studio behind the video game Dungeon Defenders.
After forming in 2009 with a company of 2 employees, Trendy Entertainment now has over 100 staffers, an extra office in New York City and San Francisco, and 3.5 million sales of its first title.
Dungeon Defenders, Trendy’s first game, is known for its combination of strategy and real-time action gameplay. The player controls one of eight unique and customizable characters to defend a crystal located on one end of the map from a mounting line of enemies that spawn from across a varied array of maps and levels. Gameplay has aspects of a three-dimensional tower defense game. Players construct defensive buildings to ward off the enemy waves. But more than just a strategy game, players also engage in action- based combat, earning experience points in-game for upgrading their statistics, and gathering loot and new items from fallen enemies that can later be customized and upgraded for greater effects. Above all, Dungeon Defenders remains a multiplayer experience as each hero character has unique class skills and abilities that foster a cooperative multiplayer experience for the best gameplay.
This unique blend of RPG and defense is the brain child of Lye’s partner and cofounder, Jeremy Stieglitz, who coded and designed the game with a small production team.
“Jeremy is the game genius. I just handle the business,” Lye says. “There’s another side to game design most people don’t ever see, it’s filled with people talking, making contracts and identifying problems in the company.”
Behind the scenes of the game’s enemy legions and scrambling heroes, Lye is the final decision-maker of many of his company’s departments. Meetings take up most of his day as he negotiates key contracts with corporations like Microsoft and Apple. His company has grown considerably since Lye first started Trendy with Stieglitz, and Lye is no longer able to micromanage his departments directly, but he still manages the large sweeping decisions of the company’s business plan and direction. He remains considerate of his actions because he knows that many who have tried to be in his position have never made it off the ground.
“You need to have a plan, a lot of people fail even when they have great ideas because they don’t know how to sell those ideas or actually run a business with the idea,” Lye says. “For example, we didn’t start the company with a million dollar budget, we had to ask ourselves how to best present the game with what we had and that directly influenced the game’s artwork.”
Dungeon Defender’s artwork and graphics has a notably cartoony look and feel, with the game being presented in cel shaded graphics that mimics a cartoon or comic. With limited budget and resources, the cel shading allows for lower resolution graphics that still look crisp and well done, without having to use enormous resources for photorealistic graphics from larger development companies.
Michael Drake, art director of Trendy Entertainment, coordinates with the design teams in hashing out concept art and development of the game’s design.
“Promotional events, release dates and deadlines mold the way we run things,” Drake explains. “Augi works outs the resources with the promotional and advertising leads, and it all trickles down and effects the way we think about making the artwork.”
Lye’s success at managing Trendy can be traced through its steady growth. The business opened in 2009 with no more than two employees including himself. That number grew to 10 as development of Dungeon Defenders went underway in 2010, and by the time the game was first released to the PC in 2011 25 employees looked to Lye for leadership. This year, Trendy Entertainment employs over 100 workers across multiple offices in Gainesville, San Francisco and New York City.
For a man whose business has done nothing but boom in the last few years, he’s taken an unconventional route to his position.
“My parents always told me to join a company and find stable employment,” Lye recalls. “Something like a doctor or an engineer.”
Lye, who plays the violin, attended the University of Florida as a music major. He dropped out at age 20 to write albums and tour the country with the Jacksonville band Cue Estey. The band eventually drifted apart and the future CEO returned to the university and finished a degree in electrical engineering.
Immediately following graduation he was offered 4 offers to different engineering firms, including an offer to help develop the technology behind space craft and orbital satellites. However, it was in a small garage located in Gainesville that young Lye found his first job at Prioria Robotics, an engineering firm that now develops unmanned aircraft for the U.S. Military.
When Lye first found the company in its early days it was a bundle of disorganized equipment laid strewn about a Gainesville garage, worked on by young graduates from the UF just like himself.
“It was in that garage that it hit me,” he recalls. “All big companies start small in places like this.”
At Prioria, Lye designed the vision algorithms for the company’s drone airplanes, but more importantly he learned first-hand all the ins and outs of running a young business.
Lye’s lessons were put to test when he left Prioria to turn his talents back to music in the form of the ToneRite, a musical tool, invented by Lye, which helps break in string instruments by playing vibrations through them that simulates years of play and improves an instrument’s sound.
He started his first company around the ToneRite, and as CEO of his own startup Lye has sold his device to 39 countries.
Lye’s connection to music would eventually bring him into acquaintance with Stieglitz, and between the two of them an idea would be formed that has now taken the shape of Trendy Entertainment.
Despite his busy job, Lye still spares time whenever he can to help other young entrepreneurs trying to follow his example.
“A lot of times I’ll have a young engineer or graduate student come to me for advice on how to make it, and I’m always willing to meet for a cup of coffee and try to help them on their way.”
Lye started The HackerHouse an entrepreneurial training project for prospective engineers who are lodged in a 110 year old Victorian mansion, where meals and rent are free so long as they focus all of their attention upon designing a commercialized product within 3 months.
“Gainesville has all the right ingredients for a tech hub,” Lye says. “The population density is high, there’s a lot of intelligent people and the cost of living is low.”
Trendy’s support for local tech organizations and startups is just part of how Lye plans on fostering other startups and businesses in Gainesville.
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